A DU student and a photographer came together, and conceived of a calendar featuring people with disability. Read about 2021 calendar, Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend.
As writers, we come across diverse people. One such special friend is Faisal Ashraf Nomani, an ardent and supportive reader. He approached me for Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend, the current project he was part of, and wanted me to meet the team behind the concept.
When I learned about the innovative and inclusive project, I felt that the message had to reach as many people as possible. It’s a beautiful initiative, which brings into light the subject of people with disabilities, and how, as a society, we can do so much more to build an equal world for everyone.
Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend brings together the talents of various individuals to break the common myths around people with disabilities. Let’s understand the project better and learn how our participation can make a difference in their words. Handing over the mic to them, as they share their thoughts on the subject, and experiences working in this project.
Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend is not just a regular calendar for 2021.
Launched on 3rd December 2020 and supported by UNV, The International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD,) the project focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities for inclusive, equitable, and sustainable development as anticipated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which pledges to ‘leave no one behind’ and recognizes disability as a cross-cutting issue, to be considered in the implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The observance of IDPD aims to promote an understanding of disability issues and mobilize support for the dignity, rights, and well-being of persons with disabilities. It also seeks to increase awareness of gains to be derived from integrating persons with disabilities in every aspect of political, social, economic, and cultural life.
The inclusive calendar highlights models with disability, to spread awareness regarding their disability, journey, and personal efforts within the disability sector. This initiative aims to give them their due recognition for their inspiring work, and efforts to bring a change in our society.
The purpose is also to raise funds and distribute them to organizations working for the betterment of people with disabilities.
Meet the organisers, and the models that feature on this calendar.
“It was an exhilarating experience for me. I enjoyed every bit of the shoot,” says Rishab Dahiya, one of the two concept designers of this calendar. The other is Purva Mittal.
Rishab continues, “I was anxious about how to pull off this idea amidst the pandemic. We wanted to create a safe environment for all our guest models. I hope I was able to capture the essence of strength and joyfulness of people with disabilities through my lens. I want the calendar to exhibit diversity in disability and promote inclusivity.”
The two co-organizers pulled off this feat by making their vision turn into reality in a quick turnaround. The initial plan was to include 12 models, but because of the pandemic restrictions, they could shoot the calendar with six models including Purva herself.
The 6 models featured in the calendar include a person with autism, a burn survivor, and a chronic illness advocate.
Designer and photographer Rishab Dahiya
Rishab Dahiya is a celebrity photographer and filmmaker based in Mumbai. He has shot with various celebrities like Sonam Kapoor, Varun Dhawan, Richa Chaddha, Raima Sen, Sanaa Khan, late Om Puri, Rahul Dev, Ravi Kishen, and various other film and TV actors. His Instagram account has a following of more than 100K, and has been featured in this list of Top 50 Instagrammers in Mumbai.
Rishab has done over 500 shoots in the last 8 years, and has worked with various Indian and international brands, and various export houses.
What was the inspiration behind this calendar?
Rishab: I always look for opportunities to do something different and socially relevant, and I realised that there weren’t any such photo shoots done in India, especially in the fashion or entertainment industry. I realised that since I have the resources and I can do it, I will do it.
I know Purva from the last 8 years and have tremendous appreciation for her work in the field. I shared my idea with her; coincidentally, she also had a similar concept in mind and we decided to take it a step forward. That is how Oddity: Don’t Bend, Don’t Blend was born, a 2021 fashion calendar featuring people with disabilities.
How different this calendar shoot was from your regular shoots?
Rishab: Normally my shoots are with actors and professional models. So whenever I get an opportunity to do something different like this, it really excites me.
This shoot was different from my regular shoots in a lot of ways as the challenges were different. We had to find a studio which is wheelchair accessible, understand the requirements of all the featured models, and handle unique situations due to the pandemic. But more than that, it was different because I never usually get a chance to interact and work with people with disabilities. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about how to talk to them or behave around them. I was a bit nervous, but it turned out to be a total blast and we had a lot of fun.
Purva Mittal has a neuromuscular genetic disorder known as Spinal Muscular Atrophy. She has an active presence on multiple platforms to voice the urgency of prenatal and carrier testing to avoid rare genetic diseases. She has been working tirelessly with pharmaceuticals and the government of India to increase the availability of the drugs for Indian patients.
Currently, Purva is pursuing her PhD in political marketing from FMS and is a marketing consultant for startups. She has been working with multiple organizations for over a decade in education and counselling. She is carving her own way to increase the presence of people with disability in the Indian political scenario.
“2020 has been a challenging and a strenuous year for all of us. I wanted to usher 2021 with a slight twist,” says Purva. “Our calendar, Oddity, wants to celebrate disability in all forms. We want to promote the acceptability in our society. Being a marketer, I saw an opportunity and grabbed it by its horns. I have been part of the disability sector for over a decade now. We need to think of innovating ways to further our cause.”
You are working with Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Would you like to shed some light on your association with them?
Purva: Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy (India) TRUST, FSMA India aims to create awareness about SMA and strive to get a cure for SMA patients to all in India. It is our resolve to give support to all SMA families. We stand together to create a better, brighter future for our children and families. We work for pivotal issues like education, employment, and healthcare for our members.
All SMA warriors are extremely intelligent, full of creativity and are high achievers, to say the least. FSMA Trust vows to support the kids and aspirants in their journey and dreams.
You are doing your PhD in political marketing and consultancy. How does this relate to your work in patient advocacy and healthcare activism?
Purva: The term ‘politics’ is thought to be associated with negative wrongdoings. But we conveniently forget that politics can never be taken away from our lives. If we aren’t able to reach out to the right people to voice our concerns, our battleship will sink without any trace. I am trying to understand the language of politics and how the system works. This will enable me to align my efforts and reap better results. Politicians are public representatives. We all need to work in unison for the development of our community and nation.
Faisal Ashraf Nomani
Faisal Ashraf Nomani holds a postgraduate degree in Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy from Jamia Millia Islamia University. He is a bike tinkerer, field researcher, and employment counselor at v-shesh. He is also known as a disability rights activist, comedian, innovator, and speaker. He has a locomotor disability in his both lower limbs and uses a wheelchair.
“When someone talks about disability, most people tend to visualise it as something very grim and depressing. I wanted to break this stereotype with my caricatures and quirky humour,” he says.
You have been known to use different modes and platforms to raise awareness regarding disability. What is the current project you are working on?
Faisal: I use cartoons on Instagram to break widely held stereotypes about disability and disabled people. They are laugh-out-loud and always quirky.
When someone talks about disability, most people tend to visualise it as something very grim and depressing. I wanted to break this stereotype with my caricatures and quirky humour. For me, it is a form of expression which I find to be much more effective. My aim is to make people laugh and introspect.
You call yourself a bike tinkerer. Can you elaborate on it?
Faisal: Shaken by an accident while riding a retrofitted bike, I looked actively at designing a more stable retrofitted bike. The result is GWL 01, an inclusive bike that we developed in partnership with design engineer Tigmanshu Bhatnagar, who is currently doing his Ph.D. in designing for people with disabilities in a London-based university.
We brainstormed and came up with the idea of a reverse trike, a motorbike with two wheels in the front and one at the back. We customised the bike, and the attempt was successful. The bike was stable and looked good. It offered greater stability and safety and attracted a lot of attention when we went out on it for a ride. We displayed the bike at the Red Brick Summit at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad (IIM-A). We have invested a lot of time on the aesthetics and industrial design. The go to market stage will take some time.
“The world is full of love and I want everyone to feel its warmth,” says Manisha Prajapati
Manisha is a born survivor. She was engulfed by the flames at an early age of four years. She has never let her scars dictate her life. Manisha is an artist and teaches art to her students at Ch. Kanhaiya Lal Memorial Foundation. She is gearing up for her exhibition in Lucknow to be held soon.
We would like to know about you and your journey till now?
Manisha: I was 4 years old when I got involved in a fire accident. That was the turning point of my life. I had to go through multiple surgeries. There came a point in my life when I stopped visiting hospitals for surgeries. Since that day I vowed to enjoy my life to the fullest and painting became my passion. I can proudly call myself an artist today.
What are your future projects?
Manisha: I want to organize painting exhibitions. I want to showcase my sketches to the world. In the future, I would like to travel the world extensively. I am glad I was a part of the calendar. This platform will help me raise awareness and instill confidence in all. I wish to extend support to everyone. The world is full of love and I want everyone to feel its warmth.
Dr. Anubha Mahajan
Dr Anubha Mahajan has a very rare chronic pain condition/illness, CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) which is also an invisible disability. After facing harassment and bullying during her post-graduation, her condition deteriorated when she was again diagnosed with Central Pain syndrome.
Working on creating awareness about various chronic illnesses and pain conditions and invisible disabilities, Dr. Anubha founded Chronic Pain India in 2017. She is a dentist by profession and is devoted to supporting chronic pain and chronic illness warriors through her organisation.
Despite her chronic pain condition, she is doing extraordinary work on both ends, with patients and doctors.
Soniya Malik, a double amputee, uses prosthetic legs for her mobility.
Soniya had to get her legs amputated because of medical negligence during treatment. She graduated from Mata Sundri College in English and after graduation; she got a job in Vfs Global as a Visa Officer for the last 2 years. She is currently pursuing post-graduation in the English language from Jamia Milia Islamia.
Pranav Bakhshi, 20, is India’s first fashion model with autism. He has delivered TEDx talks twice, been a guest speaker at IIT Bombay e- cell initiative for autism awareness, participated in a podcast initiated for autism awareness by IIT Madras students and been a part of the India Inclusion Youth Summit 2020 as a guest speaker.
Pranav is an avid photographer, contributes as a guest writer to a disability based e-mag, possesses an extensive knowledge about contemporary English music and studies graphic designing. He has received extensive media coverage in India and overseas.
You can share your story if you are an individual who has a disability, or know someone with a condition. The world needs to hear more stories so that the divide between the so-called ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’ is erased.
Your support and participation can make a world of difference in removing the stigma and misconceptions around people with disabilities. You can purchase and/or gift the calendar to your loved ones.
For more details about the calendar, please contact Purva Mittal at [email protected]
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